Subject: Age/Aboard USS Curtis Wilbur: US police pass the baton to Timorese

The Age [Melbourne] Monday 26 February 2001

US police pass the baton to Timorese


Issues: East Timor Online

The deck of an ultra-modern guided missile destroyer might seem a strange place to train police cadets, but for the best and brightest of East Timor's recruits, valuable new lessons were learnt and bad old habits discarded during a special excursion last week.

A hand-picked group of 27 East Timorese police were put through a specialist course in leadership development and human rights training on Thursday, by veteran police officers from the US Justice Department.

It began with a two-hour tour of the warship. Then classes started with the cadets dressed in neatly pressed blue uniforms of the Timor Lorosae Police Service sitting attentively under a canvas awning on the aft deck, fielding questions from veteran police trainer John Coyne.

"What examples of leadership have you seen on this ship," he asks the class. Replied one cadet: "They (Americans) have good security, they are patrolling in small boats outside and inside the ship."

More hands are raised. "We've seen supervision," said another. "This is a well-run ship - there is good management," replies a third.

"Outstanding," Mr Coyne said. "Did you see any officer mistreating enlisted personnel?"

"No," the class answers in unison.

"So, here we have an example of human rights before your eyes," Mr Coyne said. "The officers respect the enlisted men and the enlisted men respect their officers."

Team coordinator Al Vasquez said the training course was part of a US-funded $1million program to help develop the new East Timor police force.

At least 80 per cent of the advanced student group on the Curtis Wilbur once served in the former Indonesian police force.

Mr Vasquez said the course aimed to transform attitudes so the new East Timor police force would be respected in the community rather than be known for the oppression and corruption that typified the service during 24 years of Indonesian rule, which ended in September 1999.

Ironically, East Timorese police graduates are likely to finish their training course with a better understanding of democracy and civil rights than many of the current United Nations CivPol (civilian police) drawn from countries regarded as totalitarian.

So far some 300 East Timorese police have been inducted into 12-month training courses under the supervision of CivPol. Three months of classes are followed by another three months accompanying UN police on their rounds. In the final six months the East Timorese police are deployed on probation.

So far all the signs point to the East Timorese accepting their new police force. Australian and US police officers called to help quell a recent riot in Becora had strong praise for their East Timorese counterparts, many of whom were targeted as "traitors" by rioting gang members.

East Timorese police trainees, including several women, were instrumental in defusing a violent confrontation this month between Portuguese riot police and university students. "They have the language and know the culture," said one Australian federal police officer serving with CivPol.

The US course, devised in response to the needs of new and emerging democracies, has been used in almost 60 countries.

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